Mireille and I met just over 10 years ago our sophomore year at Dhahran High School in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Crazy, huh?
Where do you live?
What are you doing?
Getting my Master of Science degree in Nutrition Communication and Behavior Change at Tufts University
How do you define “home”?
Home to me is a place where I feel that I am connected to the most; a place that I know every single bit and piece of. Home is a place that you take with you wherever you go, no matter how far away you are from it.
What do you consider your “home”?
Home is definitely Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I was born and raised there, and every time I go back to visit, I still feel the same rush of nostalgia. My youth, my adolescence…I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t brought up in that environment. My heart is definitely still in Dhahran.
How many countries/places have you lived in?
3 – Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and now Boston.
Why did you move around?
After I graduated from high school in Saudi, I moved to Lebanon to start university. I lived there for four years, and after graduation, I moved back to Saudi and stayed there for almost a year volunteering at a hospital. Afterwards, I journeyed to the US to pursue a graduate degree in nutrition.
Do you think of yourself as an expatriate?
Definitely. I am originally Lebanese, but I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I only lived in Lebanon during my undergraduate studies, but even during that time, it still wasn’t enough for me to completely “absorb” the Lebanese culture/atmosphere to its fullest. What I liked about living in Aramco (a compound in Dhahran) though, was the tightly knit Lebanese community that I felt I was part of.
What impact do you think moving/living abroad has had on you?
I definitely feel that growing up in Dhahran has truly opened my eyes to a world so foreign to many people outside of the Middle East, particularly those in the Western world. I had the privilege of experiencing a diverse culture and meeting people from all over the world. I gained a worldwide perspective – and sharing this with people that I have met from all over the world is truly rewarding. Living abroad also enhanced my professional aspirations as a nutritionist aiming to encourage change among people who suffer from nutrition-related diseases – such as obesity and diabetes – which has afflicted the Gulf region.
Do you have any regrets about how you grew up?
I would say that one of my only regrets growing up in Saudi Arabia is living in a limited environment. Although Aramco is more liberal than other parts of the country, there were still times when I felt restricted. Essentially, Aramco is a bubble and it definitely has its limitations. This also applies to living in Saudi Arabia in general.
What is the most outrageous question you’ve ever been asked?
Definitely the stereotypical “Do you ride camels to school?” and “Do you live in tents?” were the two most commonly asked questions. I’ve also come across questions about the Arabic language, like “What do they speak in Lebanon? Portuguese?” I was always amused.
When you went back to your native country did you ever feel like a foreigner?
Yes, especially during my first year as I was adjusting to a new environment. Although I am Lebanese, I still didn’t feel completely at ease – my university was in a city far from where I spent my summer vacations, and I felt somewhat out of place. I didn’t feel like a “true” Lebanese because I lived away from Lebanon for so long and considered myself an expat. Also, I wasn’t fluent in Arabic, and almost everyone around me spoke Arabic casually.
Was it hard for you to re-adjust?
At the beginning, I felt very homesick, but I did have close friends with me from high school, so that made the transition much more fluid. It took some time for me to adjust, but when I did, I embraced the change.
Would you want your kids to grow up the same way you did?
I think about this question every now and then, and my answer tends to change. Right now, though, I think that I would want my kids to grow up the same way I did – either in Aramco or in another similarly structured Middle Eastern country like the UAE, Bahrain, or Kuwait. Sometimes I think about raising a family in the US or Lebanon, but it all depends on career possibilities, income and stability. When the time comes, I think I will have a definite answer.
What is the coolest experience you’ve ever had?
There are so many! A couple of my childhood favorites are spending the weekends catching crabs and jellyfish and camping by the Aramco beach. sliding down and climbing up endless sand dunes. dune-bugging in the Dubai desert, and roasting marshmallows by the fire in the jebels (mountains/hills) with a group of 10+ people.
Do you think other people should have the same experiences? Why?
Yes and no. It was definitely a blessing living in Aramco, and being able to go back to my childhood and revisit the childhood memories is what I look forward to every year. I don’t think this lifestyle is suitable for everyone, but it is definitely is a good place to build a career and raise a family.
If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?
Open-mindedness. There are still so many people who confront me and assume that Lebanon is a dangerous place to visit and question my ability to speak English so well.